Nicolás ‘Nicolas99fc’ Villalba – From Argentina to the top of the world

Our friends at LATAM Media Group spoke to one of the best FIFA players in the world, Nicolás ‘Nicolas99fc’ Villalba to find out more about his career, achievements and his plans for the future.

How can esports change a person’s life? That depends on a number of facets. While there are now plenty of pros who have become millionaires playing games competitively, perhaps their lives haven’t been so radically altered as others.

The case of Nicolás ‘Nicolas99fc’ Villalba, however, is a different story. Aged just 19 he’s the current PlayStation world number one in FIFA 19. Born in Flores, a working-class neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, his father allowed him to play video games in a bid to keep him off the streets and out of trouble.

Nicolas99FC joined FC Basel as a pro-player in 2018

Whilst playing competitive video games is increasingly common in South America, what is not so common is doing so in a professional capacity. Villalba, better known in-game by his tag Nicolas99fc, is a well-known and regarded player in the FIFA scene having been around for a few years. He played in the 2017 FIFA Interactive World Cup in London and began to make a name for himself on the pro circuit.

He won the 2018 FIFA Global Series Playoff (in Amsterdam), two editions of 2019 Gfinity Cups (both in London) and the 2019 FIFA eClub World Cup (also in London). He has finished runner-up at three FUT Champions Cups (winning the PS4 tournaments in Barcelona, London and Atlanta) and the 2019 FIFA eNations Cup in London.

Those achievements took Villalba to his current number one spot in the PlayStation 4 world ranking, but most importantly, changed the lives of both himself and his family.

Nowadays, Nicolás plays professionally for the Swiss team FC Basel: “Representing a football team playing a football game is really good. It’s also a great opportunity since South American players are not recruited as European players.

Nicolas99FC is one of the best FIFA players in the world

“I believe South America needs to be seen more often since we have many talented players that don’t have the chance of playing professionally. To represent a team like FC Basel -being South American- makes me really happy and thankful for being scouted because of what I have done (and hopefully, what I will do) during my professional career.”

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The reality of esports is wholly different in Europe when compared with South America, and the Argentine knows this all too well. “In Argentina, it’s not common to listen to people talk about esports. Indeed this activity might be even criticised.

“In Europe, people know esports is a professional activity. Although we work doing what we love, many people criticise us just because we play video games. We all know esports is the future, but Europe has understood that earlier.”

Villalba has been around the esports scene for a few years and clearly knows the ecosystem: “Europe and Asia are front-runners. In South America, we have Brazil as a top country, but we are still behind them in terms of both infrastructure and economy. We are reducing this gap step by step, and my hope is that I am able to say that I am a professional video game player, and this will be normal in a few years”.

Nicolas99FC was named FUT Champions Cup Barcelona PlayStation 4 Winner

“Many people end up in the jobs they don’t like, so I am fortunate to do what I love. I enjoy travelling, knowing new countries and cultures, but it also has its downsides.”

Playing competitive video games changed Villalba’s life, but there are a few things about the industry that he’d like to see change. He has earned a considerable amount of money, but he still believes that FIFA needs to see changes. He noted: “FIFA should improve its prize pools. Whereas other esports have millions in prizes, a FIFA major gives $50,000 (£44,100). Of course, it’s not a small amount of money, but it’s not even close to other games. Since football is probably the most popular sport in the world, I hope football esports will grow and even reach the Olympic Games”.

“Many people end up in the jobs they don’t like, so I am fortunate to do what I love. I enjoy travelling, knowing new countries and cultures, but it also has its downsides.”

After travelling the world with his father or his brother, Nicolás turned 18 last year, and now he typically travels alone. For him, it is complicated to be able to picture himself in ten years time since he claims always to do what he likes doing. “I like being a FIFA pro player right now, but if I don’t like this anymore or I stop enjoying what I do, I probably would stop playing, I don’t know. Right now, I love playing, and it’s a huge deal being able to do what I love doing!”

Working doing what he enjoys is one of the biggest pros for Nicolás Villalba, but there are also things he doesn’t care for. “Many people end up in the jobs they don’t like, so I am fortunate to do what I love. I enjoy travelling, knowing new countries and cultures, but it also has its downsides.

“Most of the tournaments are held in London, and I have a 14-hour trip to almost any destination. It is hard not to be at home since I need to be in the place I live in, near to my family, my friends and my girlfriend. I really enjoy what I do, but I don’t like it when it turns into an obligation.”

How much can esports change a person’s life? In the case of Nicolás Villalba, entirely. Moreover, it’s not just for him but for his family at large, and even for the kids in Argentina, that view him as something of a role model.

ESI Hall of Fame 2019 Partners